Why I need to see child porn - Note (2006 Sep 01): Salon has removed this article from its site, citing irregularities in its characterization of the legal doctrines surrounding child pornography in general, and the New York Times’ story in particular.
The piece incorrectly characterized the law pertaining to child pornography, and the facts surrounding the reporting of a recent published story in the New York Times.
[...] The piece that appeared on Salon asserted that under child pornography laws, journalists and researchers have no protection from prosecution if they viewed visual depictions of child pornography, even inadvertently, in the course of their work. In fact, federal law appears to offer legal protection for inadvertently coming into possession of child pornography. A federal statute provides an “affirmative defense” under certain circumstances, if the discovery of child pornography is limited and is reported to a law enforcement agency.
The assertion that there was no law regarding inadvertent discovery with which the Times could comply was incorrect. Any implication that the conduct of the New York Times or Mr. Eichenwald was illegal was also incorrect.
Salon regrets the errors and has removed the article from the site.
Thus, one needs to take what follows below (which I will leave intact, at least for now) with more than a grain of salt.
Over the past two decades, I have done a lot of critical writing about baseless sex abuse scares in day cares and schools. Back in the Reagan era, law enforcement helped fuel the panic. One way was by claiming that hundreds of thousands of U.S. kids were involved in kiddie porn, and that the business earned billions of dollars annually. It took a while for the press to figure out that commercial child porn was virtually nonexistent by the 1980s. In fact, as researchers eventually discovered, the main manufacturer was the U.S. government, which produced and sold child-porn magazines for sting operations. The media was also slow to realize that many individuals, including mothers and fathers, were prosecuted for taking photos of their kids that were nothing more than innocent “baby on a bear rug” shots. I covered a couple of cases like that in the 1980s and 1990s. In both, prosecutors screamed “Porn!” on the nightly news, and only in trial or appellate courts did reporters finally have a right to examine the images. By then, people’s lives had been ruined.
[...] There I found a new Molly, a 10-year-old, still wearing ordinary swimwear and street clothes, and posed much like JonBenet during her beauty-queen days. Again, creepy but not illegal. The new Molly linked to other “child model” sites. Assuming they’d be similar, I clicked again.
And that’s when I hit dozens of grossly illicit pictures. [...]
I almost fainted, but not from disgust at the depravity of making and displaying these pictures. After all, reporters see depravity all the time. Rather, I was consumed with fear of the U.S. government. Technically, according to federal statutes, just visiting a kiddie-porn site makes you a lawbreaker, because regardless of why you went there, the images end up in your hard drive. You “possess” child porn, which is a serious crime. You can notify the authorities. You can clean up your cookies and your cache. Still, you broke the law. The feds might excuse you, or they could arrest you. It’s entirely up to them.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a psychologist, a criminologist, a sociologist â€“- or a journalist. No one but cops can legally look at Internet child pornography. Would-be researchers have asked for permission to no avail. [...] Lawrence Matthews, an award-winning freelance journalist who contributed work to a National Public Radio station in Washington, D.C., and articles to the Washington Post was prosecuted for having downloaded child porn. [...] Matthews was tried, convicted and incarcerated. A judge in his case ruled that the press has no First Amendment right to view illegal images on the Net.
That leaves law-enforcement officials and politicians free to say whatever they want about the prevalence and content of images deemed child pornography, with virtually no way for the public to test their claims.
See earlier An Andrew Vachss Nightmare Series — these articles also are discussed in the article, as follows:
Which brings us to another journalist, the Times’ Eichenwald. In his Aug. 20 piece, “With Child Sex Sites on the Run, Nearly Nude Photos Hit the Web,” he writes that he examined “more than 200 sites” that sound exactly like the one illegal URL I found. Two hundred! That’s real research, and I commend him for it. But did Eichenwald have the legal right to do the work? No. The Times notes in a box accompanying his article that “United States law makes it a crime to purchase, download or view child pornography, unless the images are promptly reported to authorities and no images are copied or retained. The Times complied with the law.”
Trouble is, there is no law for the Times to comply with. Contrary to the box, nothing says that if you report and you don’t copy or retain, you’re safe. Eichenwald admitted as much in an e-mail he sent me when I pointed out that the box is wrong. Its language, he wrote, “was terrible,” and was added by editors after he signed off on the article.